Sayonara Nisei Week


Madame Sanjo Kangiku, Nisei Week Queen Dana Fujiko Heatherton and the Nisei Week Court lead dancers during the community at last year's closing ceremony. Ondo dancing starts at 5 p.m. on Sunday on First St. (Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

To close a special and successful 70th Nisei Week Japanese Festival, the community will gather on the streets of Little Tokyo to celebrate with the ondo street dancing and closing ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 22. The ceremony will begin at 4 p.m. and commence with a special taiko performance, and followed with the traditional “ondo” or “street dancing” starting promptly at 5 p.m. This is the time when everyone is encouraged to participate – young and old –all can come out and dance Little Tokyo’s First Street. A fun time for all – whether dressed in yukata (Japanese summer kimono) or in shorts and a t-shirt.

Nisei Week’s annual raffle winners will also be drawn, and the grand prize is two business class round trip tickets to Japan on American Airlines, the official airline sponsor of the Nisei Week Japanese Festival.

The 2010 Nisei Week choreographer is Madame Fujima Kansuma, who has choreographed two dances, “Arigato” by SMAP and “Wani Natte Odoro” by V6. This year, “Asadoya Yunta,” an Okinawan dance is being added to the Nisei Week Ondo. The six other dances include: “Kyushu Tanko Bushi,” “Kagoshima Ohara Bushi,” “Aizu Bandai San,” “One Plus One,” “Shiawase Samba,” and “Sho Tokyo Ondo.”

Madame Fujima Kansuma was born Sumako Hamaguchi in San Francisco.  When she was three years old, her family moved to Los Angeles.  She began her dance training at the age of nine and was soon actively performing starring roles in a local 15-member girls’ kabuki group.

Nisei Week choreographer Madame Fujima Kansuma (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Upon graduating high school, her passion for this ancient traditional performing art continued to grow so she traveled to Japan and enrolled in the foremost Kabuki acting school of the legendary Onoe Kikugoro VI.  For four years she studied acting, dancing, shamisen, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and narimono (percussion instruments).  Since Kabuki includes dancing as well as acting, she was sent her to the renowned Kabuki dancer and choreographer Fujima Kanjuro VI.  Determined not to fail, she survived the rigors of training, overcoming obstacles including discrimination for being American born. Finally in 1938, she was bestowed the professional name of Fujima Kansuma and was granted permission by the legendary Kikugoro VI to dance his renowned Kagami Jishi (Mirror Lion Dance), an honor and privilege given only to exceptional students. She returned to the U.S. and just as she opened her first dance studio, her life and career were disrupted by World War II.

With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she and her parents were taken to Arkansas and put in one of the many internment camps for Japanese Americans.  There, with only a kimono, fan and one recording of Japanese music, she brought light and joy to a dark and dismal situation.  Later, camp authorities allowed Madame Kansuma to travel to other camps to perform and teach Japanese dance. To this day, many still recall her performances of Urashima and Tange Sazen.

After the war, Madame Kansuma returned to Los Angeles and resumed her dancing and teaching career and began doing more and more choreography for a westernized audience.  She has taught countless girls how to dance, 46 became her natori, where they are granted professional names.

Her work to educate and build bridges between two cultures and two nations has been recognized by both the Japanese and American governments. In 1985, the Government of Japan awarded Madame Kansuma the Order of the Precious Crown, Apricot in recognition for her work in enhancing the appreciation of Japanese culture in the United States. The National Endowment for the Arts deemed her a National Heritage Fellow for the Arts in 1987, honoring her as a master traditional artist and recognizing her lifetime achievements and contributions to our nation’s traditional arts heritage. In 2004, she was given the Japanese American National Museum’s Cultural Ambassador Award for her devotion and commitment to the art of Japanese Classical Dance.

At 92, she continues to teach and choreograph and her legacy lives on through her students who love to dance. Her troupe has performed at high profile events such as the 1984 Olympics, Rose Parade and performances at the Disney Concert Hall and Music Center. They were also involved as choreography consultants and appeared as dance students in the Oscar winning movie “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

Her passion and devotion to her art has no bounds and it is her dream that her legacy be kept alive and continued for generations to come.


1 Comment

  1. I was in Little Tokyo for the ondo. I was “tour guide” for some relatives from Japan who weren’t familiar with Little Tokyo or the Nisei community. Nisei Week and Little Tokyo left a really good impression on them.

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